Does doing a picture story on the cutting up
of corpses leave a photographer unmoved?
Im not the most hard-boiled man, and so
until this day Plastination is surely the
most sinister subject I have worked on. And
certainly one of the most interesting.
The idea came into my head after I had
listened to a radio feature on this new
method of conserving organic matter, long
before its inventor Gunther von Hagens
gladly allowed himself to be dragged through
the media. At first he and his wife who works
with him had serious reservations about
going public in general and specifically
about me as a photographer. It took some
arguing on my part to convince them to let
me do the story.
The first assignment for German news
magazine Focus included two three-day
terms at the Institute for Plastination.
I took pictures as dozens of corpses were
dissected, cut, impregnated, plastinated.
A second assignment comprised four days
at the Body Worlds show where von Hagens
exhibits of real human bodies were on
display for the first time in Europe.
The writer of the story was a good friend
of mine, Andreas Weber. It was good to have
him for company, for the impressions of our
first days at the institute were extremely
disturbing. Our conversations at the end
of each day had a cathartic effect and
helped us both cope with the monstrosities
we had seen. In the end, however, curiosity
and fascination prevailed against horror
I often get asked what kind of person
Gunther von Hagens is. What impressed me
most were his ability to focus his attention,
his determination and his self-discipline.
He never threw a fit whenever something
went wrong. No, all he did was shout Damn!,
push his anger aside immediately, and get
back on his tracks to search for an
alternative. You could learn something from
that. I remember one remark of the amateur
violinist: I love listening to music, but I
dont WANT to love it, because music keeps
me from thinking.
The line between dedication and
fanaticism is narrow. I dont want to be the
one to judge which side von Hagens is on.